As a marketer I have evolved — I have to say as much as it was out of necessity, it was also out of sheer excitement in figuring out this new media. By the way, when I talk about Traditional Marketing, I don’t necessarily ascribe to TV, radio or mass channels — I am referencing the one-way push communication that businesses have owned over the last century: the control over communications, messaging, with an apparent arrogance about who would consume the product or service.
I, along with many of my colleagues, came from an era where the marketer and the business controlled everything:
- we built the better mousetraps
- we “assumed” who bought our product
- we catered the messaging to those whom we assumed would buy
- we came to rely on pervasive channels to get our message heard
- we relied on research that assumed “statistical significance and validity”, and was, many times, subject to “groupthink”
- … all this to prove that we knew how to build markets for products…and not the other way around.
My experience as a direct marketer in the 90’s revealed hints of morphing as the internet slowly became mainstream. As businesses tried to figure how it would evolve in this new medium, I had already witnessed a change in the way marketing was being approached.
Slowly, I saw a shift that made it tremendously harder for marketers to control their message.
Search and Quest to Rank Higher
Back in the late 90’s, Google’s introduction provided companies a way for people to find their websites. Early adopters could corner the market on search terms and capitalize on consumer traffic. I remember being able to own the term, “credit card” and every variation therein for a few years and pull in loads of traffic for people searching for credit cards …. that is, until Google introduced the bidding system. Suddenly it levelled the playing field; Google and its search competitors opened up opportunities for many businesses to benefit from this new thing called search engine marketing.
Consumers quickly began to understand the difference between organic search result and sponsored ones. As search engine marketing began to ramp us as a viable business, Google also encouraged businesses to follow basic search principles to allow them to build integrity into their website and draw people in with quality content. This opened up the market for black hat practices, link baiting etc., as people tried to find other shortcuts to achieve higher search rankings.
Today, Google’s Hummingbird update has shown that it’s now up to marketers to improve the quality of the site content to drive users, without the privilege or benefit of user search query history they’ve received in the past.
Then Along Came Social…
By far the most dramatic effect on business practices has been the introduction of social media. Once everyone figured out that this was no longer a passing fancy, marketers went en-mass to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts, without truly understanding why they had to be there. There were many attempts to use the platforms as mere push marketing channels but they quickly learned that this opened up the doors for consumers to have their say…. and in droves.
The norms we had formally established to understand the needs of the consumer did not seem to fit in this new world of continuous feedback. Suddenly the opinion of one, regardless if that opinion was shared by many, was a force to be reckoned with. The ‘statistically insignificant’ became more significant and it put a wrench in the plans of the marketer who had a neatly organized plan set to launch. Management would ask, “who else feels this way about the company?” In reality, they should have asked, “How many people have seen this?” It was no longer about extrapolating to understand our collective customer viewpoint. The reality of the strength of one voice, one opinion and how far and deep it would resonate became disturbingly clear. It became an impending attack on the company’s reputation — one marketers weren’t equipped to defend.
The marketer, who once controlled the message, the medium, the channel and the distribution was at odds with the very audience to whom it was marketing. The marketer was losing control. He became more reactive trying to find ways to gain back control… his attempt increasingly futile.
Struggling to Learn The New Norms…
And so it begins. Tried and true mediums are slowly withering away. I won’t waste time writing about print or other mass media. The evidence of this deterioration has been widely publicized with implications being felt across the industry.
Even the online channel is witnessing its own impacts. Banner ads, introduced well over a decade ago, are now largely ignored. CTR rates have gone down to .04%. As this article states, You are more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad.
…you are 31.25 times more likely to win a prize in the Mega Millions than you are to click on a banner ad.” Not only that, “you are 87.8 times more likely to apply to Harvard and get in…112.50 times more likely to sign up for and complete NAVY SEAL training…279.64 times more likely to climb Mount Everest…and 475.28 times more likely to survive a plane crash than you are to click on a banner ad.
Even Facebook has finally done away with Sponsored Stories, as it continues to monetize its platform. It’s still early, but advertising will continue to test its limits within social media. It’s ironic: the very medium established so people could run away from the deluge of ads, is now entertaining its inclusion as a sustaining revenue model.
Couple this with the rise in data transparency and the consumer demand for choice and permission. It will be increasingly harder to push communication and expect a decent return.
The New Marketer Now Understands Relationship Is The New Normal…
Google figured this out and implemented it through Hummingbird. Facebook has taught marketers to build a strong and engaged community through listening and relevant content, NOT promotion. Marketers who are used to having this control are at a loss. They are now looking for quick-fix courses to learn to engage, dialogue, and develop mechanisms that continues to foster this two-way interaction.
It’s a brand new way of thinking. You can’t fit everything you’ve learned and apply it to this new medium — it’s akin to putting a round peg in a square hole. I know. I’ve tried. And I’ve had to learn.
What I love about this is that it has mitigated much of the guesswork that we, as marketers, have had to hone over the years. This incessant feedback loop directly from my customer gives me all the insight I need to make things better: in improving the service, developing a better product or enriching the customer experience. We’ve never had the benefit of this channel …. ever. And now we have.
This new collaborative environment is about transparency and acquiescing to the loss of some of that control. More importantly, it’s about managing the relationship with the customer for mutual benefit… and eventually strong business return. What many businesses have come to realize is we now don’t have to spend inordinate amount of dollars in trying to persuade and sell the customer. The right efforts to nurture the relationship with the customer to drive return is now a reality.
It’s not too late to learn.
Will business regain any of that control? Perhaps, but this new collaborative, co-created environment between business and consumer will yield much stronger benefits organizationally and financially.
As we move social media into becoming a more pervasive medium for business, we all will have a stake in developing the new normal for business through the next decade and beyond.